Chapter 8: Ghost Busters
Captain Stan Sloan shifted in his seat, trying to get more comfortable. Accepting the futility of the effort like a good soldier, he leaned his head back against the hard side of the airplane, and closed his eyes. The canvas-slung seats running down both sides of the aircraft were not designed for comfort.
He let his mind wander over the memories of the last three months. The next stop was a remote airstrip in Iraq where forty-two men would be left with enough rations and equipment to last a month. The current plan was to use drones for weekly resupply missions. Helicopters would be sent if medical evacuations were needed. Ghost Two was their rapid response support, and the two platoons would be rotated periodically, when the situation allowed. Stan and the rest of Ghost One had learned during their training that plans were only suggestions to accomplish a goal, and seldom lasted much beyond the drawing board. He certainly liked the idea of frequent rotations better than the eighteen month tours at the sharp end of the stick that Special Forces were enduring in Afghanistan.
His impression of Iraq, during his last tour in the country, was that it was one of those places in the world where the wind sucked instead of blew. As far as Stan was concerned, the whole Arabian Peninsula was where the earth took its enema. This trip would be different though. Much different, he hoped. Iraq is where he got his first Purple Heart, and he didn't want to repeat the experience.
"I certainly hope not," Stan's Companion replied to his thoughts. "This will be a completely different approach to the war. During a melding of Companions, we determined an eighty percent chance of success in changing the course of this war, using this strategy."
"How about taking out this Branch character?" Stan asked in his mind.
"We don't have enough information about his situation," his Companion replied reluctantly. "Estimates ranged from twenty percent to ninety percent, depending on circumstances when facing him."
Stan hadn't bothered to name his Companion. Once the entity had become active in his mind, it had been like talking to himself. He believed that talking to himself wasn't as nuts as having an invisible friend with its own name that he talked to. He went with talking to himself. He still had trouble believing the changes in his life during the last three months.
The two weeks of selection were followed by six weeks of training with Companions and the Armor. The ease of mental communications with team members was the greatest boon, in Stan's opinion. Secure communications that doesn't alert the enemy of your presence is the holy grail of 'A Team' leaders' desires. The armor itself was amazingly versatile, and they were continually finding new ways to use its capabilities.
Appearing and disappearing at will was nearly as high on his list of likes as the communications, but there were many other things to like about the armor. Sound suppression, for example, was ingenious, but it also meant that the other things could be suppressed, or amplified. During linking practice, they learned that the focal person could actually broadcast through the armor of the people that he was linked to. They were still learning new things they could do with the armor, and some discoveries surprised even the Major.
One of the guys had figured out how to configure a clear, double lens with his helmet, allowing telescopic viewing. Sergeant Hooker figured out a different way to disappear. Instead of simply vanishing, the way everyone normally did it, Sergeant Hooker devised a technique to disappear gradually. He started at his hands and feet, and the phenomenon worked its way toward center mass, but the image of his hands and feet remained on the visible portion of the armor. It created the illusion of rapidly disappearing into the distance, without moving. The same effect could be used when appearing. Major Connor laughed in delight when he saw how it worked. The Major had instructed everyone to learn to disappear and appear the way Sergeant Hooker had discovered.
Major Connor had laughed again when asked for an explanation, and his reply had been, "We're going to use it to blow their minds, and be a little more safe about it, Captain." Stan must have still looked confused, because the Major added, "If someone simply disappears, there's going to be some joker that wants to shoot at that spot. Somebody could get hurt that way! But if someone disappears into the distance, without taking a step, why shoot? They're out of range."
Captain Sloan made sure every man practiced the technique.
Stan's uniform was similar to thousands of other desert BDUs worn by the US military, except for a black patch on his shoulder. A person needed to get very close, and examine it carefully, to discern the black on black caricature of the popular Bill Murray movie icon for Ghost Busters. The battalion they planned on mounting was being called the Ghost Battalion, and the men decided the Ghost Busters' logo was appropriate for a ghost unit. The Major liked the idea, but didn't like the color scheme of the traditional symbol. He decided on the black on black design. The background of the patch was a dull black. The design of a ghost in a circle with a bar across it was the same shade of black as the background, but was in shiny satin thread. It was an appropriate symbol for their unit, because in Stan's mind, they truly were ghosts. The last month had proved that to him.
Stan was the XO for this band of merry men. Major Connor was the Commanding Officer, and Stan was glad for it. This was going to be a different kind of battle. They would probably still need to kill people, but that wasn't their primary mission. Normally, military tactics were focused on killing or incapacitating as many enemy as possible. In their plan, each kill would be for security, or to accomplish a specific mission objective.
The primary mission was killing ex-general Robert Branch. However, getting a bead on him was going to be difficult, and dangerous. To draw him out, their unit would be ghosts, and would ensure ISIS forces lost every battle they joined. Accomplishing that goal without the Demon, the ex-General, ISIS Commanders, or their allies learning of Ghost's existence would be a challenge.
He tensed when the plane's attitude abruptly changed, and a green light flashed at each end of the fuselage.
"Packs hook up," Stan ordered the men via their Companions, as he snapped a clasp onto his own. Mental communication was much easier than trying to yell over the noise of the aircraft.
The men simultaneously connected their own packs to the tether connected to their waists. Most of the men had a second pack already connected.
The back of the C-130 dropped open as an amber light began flashing.
"Up," Stan mentally ordered, and each man stood, grasping the tethers.
A red light flashed, and Stan ordered, "Go, go, go."
The C-130 crew chief pressed the button that closed the rear, after the last man had disappeared into the darkness. He was frowning.
"Dave, did you hear any of those guys say anything the entire time they were on board?" Steve asked.
"Nope," Dave replied. "Not even jump orders. That was pretty weird."
"I was thinking 'spooky, '" Steve mused in response, and shivered.
Caleb watched the ISIS soldiers set up camp on the road leading to Baqubah, the capitol of the Diyala province. Baqubah was only fifty kilometers, or just over thirty-one miles, from Baghdad.
ISIS had attempted to conquer Baghdad over the last few years, but so far had failed. They had been beaten back several times by airstrikes, and the Baghdad defense system. However, the Iraqi forces in Baghdad couldn't break out of the trap, either. ISIS had changed their tactics, and began attacking across Iraq, moving ever closer to completely surrounding Baghdad. Morale was high among the ISIS forces, and low among the defending forces. Everyone knew that conquering Baqubah meant they would control Baghdad's last source of water from the Divala river. It didn't matter how good Baghdad's defenses were, if they didn't have water.
Caleb's first task was to ensure Baqubah didn't fall. He had sent one squad, under the command of Captain Sloan, into the city to check defenses and to look for saboteurs. Another squad had been sent to find the ISIS command group, and sow a little discord where possible. The squad with him planned to do the same thing among the ISIS attacking forces. ISIS was a terrorist organization, and they were about to learn what real terror was.
"It looks like they are setting up positions," Caleb mentally sent to the squad. "Let's go play some games."
The squad silently stood, and advanced on the jubilant fighters preparing to attack at dawn. The squad was invisible, for now. Soon, the ISIS fighters would see judiciously selected images of the ghosts that were attacking them.
Gunnery Sergeant Devereux's fire team carefully moved among the men carrying rifles. Each man of his team had a bag of small packets that looked like the ketchup found in fast food stores. Each packet held enough tree sap to plug five rifles. The sap would quickly harden, after being exposed to air. The hope was the ISIS soldiers would begin shooting into the air - as they often did before a battle - while their Mullah was exhorting them to kill their fellow Muslims. Twenty or thirty rifles exploding during the celebration should put a damper on their spirits! Tree sap was used to maintain the illusion of natural causes.
Master Chief Sal Marconi's team was tasked with sabotaging the vehicle-mounted weapons. ISIS used captured pickups to mount fifty caliber machine guns, and belt-fed twenty millimeter cannons. Sal's team would ensure the ISIS makeshift weapon platforms caused more grief to the ISIS troops than the city defenders. Tree sap in the barrels of fifty caliber weapons was easy. The twenty millimeter weapons were more difficult. For them, there would be a blasting cap, liberally coated with tree sap, shoved down the barrels.
Caleb joined First Sergeant Ted Benson's team. Their task was to disable the five tanks ISIS had brought to the field. Each man carried the tree sap packets, and a writhing bag at their waist hidden by their armor. The main guns of the tanks couldn't fire, if the trigger assembly was glued in place with tree sap. The mini guns the tanks sported would be dangerous to fire, too, with a liberal application of sap in the barrels. Driving the tank would be difficult, when the steering controls were locked in a hard left or right position by more sap. Discovering any of those deficiencies was going to be problematic for the ISIS tankers, because cobras would greet them when they attempted to get inside the tanks. They couldn't shoot the snake, because ricocheting bullets could destroy the tank controls. Somehow, they would need to catch the snake, and get it out of the tank before their other little problems could be found.
Captain Sloan reported that fifteen saboteurs had been thwarted within the city. The information was 'whispered' in some officer's ears, along with where to find the proof. Suggestions to fine tune the defenses were also implanted, before the team pulled back.
Caleb was satisfied when the teams completed their tasks. The dawn would herald a very bad day for ISIS.
"Regroup behind the Mosque," Caleb announced. "Their Mullah and their Commander are about to tell them that Allah approves of what they are about to do. I think we should put a twist on that message."
Every member of the platoon could hear the grim laughter in his thoughts.
Caleb listened as the Mullah, and the ISIS Military Commander, each read passages of the Koran, describing what the men were required to do when faced with an unbeliever. An unbeliever included any person, of any religion, including Islam, that didn't agree with their narrow interpretation of the Koran. Most of the inhabitants of Baqubah were Muslim, though of a different sect. Caleb viewed their differences to be as senseless as the differences between Catholics and Protestants. Still, the Mullahs and military commanders had their jobs cut out for them.
The human psyche hasn't evolved to kill, maim, and subjugate other humans, despite what another species may surmise from the history of the human race. Every nation that has ever gone to war has needed to dehumanize the enemy in some way. The enemy needed to be perceived as something less than human. In Korea, the enemy were 'slopes' and 'chinks'. In Viet Nam, the enemy were 'gooks'. Iraq's enemy is 'rag heads' or 'hajjis'. No soldier has ever met a human on the battle field, because the enemy must always be perceived as less than human for the soldier to be effective.
The Mullah and the ISIS Commander understood that problem, but understood the solution, as well. By the time they were finished, their soldiers would be insane with religious fervor and ready to attack the infidels of an Islamic city.